Who would have thought we’d hit ten issues of Midwestern Gothic?
Issue 10 (Summer 2013) of Midwestern Gothic might be an arbitrary milestone, but I can’t help but feel a little extra pride in lasting long enough to throw double digits on the cover. It’s getting harder and harder for lit journals to last nowadays – even some of the established beachheads of the industry are flailing a little bit. To be around for this long is a testament to our contributors who fill the magazine – I’ve said it many, many times, but without them, we’re nothing. There’s some phenomenal, gritty stuff in this issue, including one of the major players in grit-lit today, Frank Bill. To land a writer with that much national cred is pretty cool – especially to see him placed among folks who are being published for the first time in our magazine.
My favorite story in this issue was “The Disappearance of Herman Grimes” by Michael Shou-Yung Shum, a fiction about a struggling franchise restaurant owner who is preparing for a visit from headquarters. Things haven’t been going well, but the situation is correctable – provided Herman is up to the task. In true Midwestern tradition, our authors continue to favor main characters they love to hate. Herman draws in on himself, hides, and only makes the situation worse by putting his incompetent assistant manager in charge of saving this business. It’s tragic and comedic to watch at the same time. Here’s one of my favorite sections:
In the entire town of Ardsmore, Oklahoma, there were only two restaurants that could be considered adequate, and neither was Herman Grimes’s. Herman’s was a franchise called Crystal’s, located off the first highway exit leaving town, next to a twenty-four hour gas station. The food served in his restaurant was U.S. fast food, deep fried, mostly parts of chickens. The fact was that in Ardsmore, the options for dining out were bleak and could only be tolerated by a citizenry who’d grown habituated to the basest diet.
Herman’s franchise featured a radiant jewel on its sign, a glass front, and once-shining chrome fixtures now dulled from repetitive use. Always, a thin layer of grease pervaded the air, ruining the complexions of his teenaged employees. Herman himself stood up front only when he was manning a register during the lunch and dinner hours or taking a complaint. He usually sat in the back, in his office next to the employee bathroom with the lock that did not lock, watching what was happening on the video surveillance monitor with dismay rising in his eyes. Herman had never been particularly interested in food, but when he and his wife had started out in business, they’d mutually agreed that a restaurant franchise was the safest bet. Now, for the last three years, the restaurant had hardly been making any money. The recession had driven most of Ardsmore to the pre-packaged frozen food aisles of the local supermarket, where the parts of chickens could be had for a dozen at the same price Herman offered for four.
The atmosphere in the restaurant had been especially brutal for six weeks, since Herman’s wife had passed away. He’d been away an entire month, on bereavement leave. And then, barely recovered and somewhat bewildered by why he was doing it, Herman Grimes had returned to work. That first week back had been awful, filled with so many gruesome gestures of commiseration from his regulars that they drove Herman entirely into his office. His teenaged employees treated him as if his misfortune were contagious, even using the customer bathroom to avoid crossing paths. The worst was Joe Cloud, his general manager, who had seemingly taken it upon himself to rehabilitate Herman’s psyche through sheer force of aphorism.
But it was primarily Herman Grimes that caused Herman to isolate himself in his office. He couldn’t say that he particularly liked his restaurant, but it was all he had left, now that Greta had passed. Oh God. Greta. The second day back, in the midst of counting inventory with Joe, trying to regain a feel for hard numbers, the thought had struck him like a bolt from the blue. She’s gone. His clipboard fell to the floor, and he was biting his right knuckle hard, so hard it drew blood, cringing like an animal in the corner of a cage. When his fit had subsided, Joe was looking at him with more than mild concern. Joe said he could finish the inventory himself.
Buy a copy of Issue 10 and hear from some of the Midwest’s best writers and poets.